News Release: School Privatization Should not be Hampered by Today’s Federal Court Ruling on Grand Rapids Case

Center legal scholar contends case should have minimal impact on future privatization efforts

For Immediate Release
Friday Jan. 9, 2009
Contact: Patrick J. Wright
Senior Legal Analyst

MIDLAND - In Dean Transportation Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today ruled that a Michigan Education Association-affiliated union should be allowed to continue to represent workers whose jobs were privatized by the Grand Rapids Public Schools, in effect requiring Dean Transportation to inherit the public-sector union. It would be wrong to conclude from this decision, however, that all private employers winning public school service contracts would have to recognize existing school unions, according to Mackinac Center Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright.

Wright, who coauthored an amicus brief in the case and reviewed today's decision, noted: "The court specifically saved for another day a fundamental workers' rights question. This question involves whether it is fair to assume that employees want to be represented by the union they had in the public sector, where unions are not permitted to strike, after shifting into the private sector, where strikes are permitted."

Wright added, "The right to strike is a powerful and dangerous weapon because strikes can lead to work stoppages and failed companies. Consequently, it should not be presumed that workers would want a union that hasn't exercised this destructive power to represent them in the private sector, since a misguided strike could destroy their jobs. Hence, firms that win school contracts should be able to argue persuasively in court that they do not need to recognize the public-sector unions that once represented the workers unless the workers themselves affirmatively vote to continue to be represented by the union.

"Michigan school boards and private contractors do not need to fear that privatization efforts will be undermined by a presumption that school unions will automatically continue to be involved in the provision of any privatized services," Wright continued. "This decision does not prevent privatization as either a legal or practical matter."